Yona Harvey on Kaveh Akbar
"Heritage" is a delicate apostrophe that touches upon Reyhaneh Jabbari's seven-year imprisonment in Iran. Jabbari was hanged in 2014 after being accused of murdering the man who tried to sexually assault her. With armor and grace, this poem questions the fate of an Iranian woman who defends herself against attack, and, perhaps, more broadly, the fate of any woman in danger of abuse in the world, caught on the side of the road, in a dark alley, or in the alleged safety of her community, her campus, or her own house. The poem's greatest power, though, rests in the humanitarian question it asks of its readers. What is the heritage of those who live among these women, which is to say, all of us? What is our responsibility? The poem treads the troubled waters of its questions: "sometimes I am so ashamed // of my sentience how little it matters… angels don't care about humility." In its final stanzas, "Heritage," reads somewhat like an epistolary—perhaps, the kind the late poet Agha Shahid Ali might have described as apparitional and held only in the imagination, having never been physically sent or received. One might argue that Reyhaneh Jabbari, "armada of flowers," waits in another time and place for more than "the momentary absence of pain" that the world has mistaken for victory. Hence, the poem implicates us all in Jabbari's death. The poem calls its readers to action, to interrogate the spaces between victories in which women are endlessly abused and "sent on" as Jabbari was sent on without justice.